1 MAY 2024 | ANALYSIS

Disclaimer: Wolves has sought to interview several Independent candidates for the London mayoralty, but only Natalie has responded. We do not explicitly endorse her campaign, nor any other.

As I walk into the shared office space that Natalie Campbell uses for her campaigning work in her bid to become the next Mayor of London, I find the atmosphere calm overall, yet with some of the tension that one does tend to find in co-working environments. Friendly staff to chaperone you upstairs, but everyone is here with their own business and their own agenda.

Pot-plants abound, as do coffee machines. When you do everything by yourself, you know you’ll have to blend in. You know you can’t be too conspicuous, but you also can’t afford not to have any presence – especially if you want to present yourself as someone who could end up running the whole city.

This, Natalie knows all too well – she is running her campaign to become Mayor of London herself. There is no Campaign Manager, and no bureaucracy beyond the basics to administer it. As she tells me, she would only ever entrust this to herself. Natalie says she is taking “a CEO’s approach” to both the priorities and the running of this campaign – she has a team, but she alone will be responsible overall. This is a central pillar to her campaign.

Having been the co-CEO of Belu Water – a social enterprise focused on sustainability – since 2020, and the Chancellor of the University of Westminster since 2022, Natalie is accustomed to doing things and getting places by herself. It is perhaps no surprise that a girl born in Hammersmith and raised in Willesden by grandparents from Jamaica has learned to take the bull by the horns.

When I talk to her about my own experience of needing to both ignore, and be ignored, when events are playing out on the street scene in a big city, Natalie tells me that “well communities” – as she defines them – are what London needs, and that this sense that people feel is not reminiscent of the London she grew up in.

She tells me that people always knew each other in their own communities when she was growing up in London, and that people knew who their neighbours were, as well as who was running the corner shop. As to her roadmap for achieving this, the picture is rather more complicated.

A large part of Natalie’s campaign centres around reform of the city’s Metropolitan Police. She tells me that all the local police officers knew all of the local kids when she was growing up, and that she plans to create 320 new “neighbourhood centres” to bring this back into place, while also including services for mental health support, for example – and she wants to repurpose existing unused high street properties to do so.

When I challenge her on how expensive this could be, she counters by saying they would not in fact be bought, but rented, adding that this would create added value for landlords who do not want to be left with empty properties – particularly in crime-ridden neighbourhoods.

The staff at these neighbourhood centres would be considered Constables, but Natalie disagrees with fellow Independent candidate Andreas Michli that police officers should be educated to solicitor level in the law. She adds, though, that “you should absolutely know the laws you’re enforcing”, and that these are just “people doing a job”.

But on the notion that there ought to be a desk somewhere for every police officer, Natalie is strident: “You should be speaking to people, you should be walking around, you should be going into schools – your day should be full with interacting with the community.” She adds that this will “change the dynamic” of the way the police work at a local level.

When I ask what the distinction is between a “well community” and an “unwell community”, in Natalie’s mind it is clear: the former is “connected”, which also includes transport links and biodiversity. She further recounts how one of the “beauties of lockdown” was hearing the birds in the morning, and walking around in nature when one could. She does oppose any future lockdowns, but says that people “greening their own space” was one of the benefits that came out of them.

We move on to the link between education and crime, which Natalie says is “on the preventative end” of the issue. She highlights the need for “wrap-around support” all the way through the education system, from early years through to age 18, but points out that learning about entrepreneurship, including “resilience, creativity, communication”, will better prepare young people to make their way in the world.

Notably, however, she points out that learning entrepreneurial skills will not make an entrepreneur out of everyone – when I ask whether everyone should be one – but that these are broadly-deployable skills in all walks of life, and she wants more of these for Londoners. She also wants community leaders who young people can “connect with”.

Moving on to what has gone wrong to begin with, Natalie firmly rebuts my suggestion that she might be aiming to go backwards to how London was in her own past, rather than forwards. Instead, she says, both austerity and division in politics have had a psychological effect on younger generations in particular – they lack hope, she adds.

“Remember when politics was boring?”, she asks me. Natalie wants a return to politicians who are elected to make a difference to people’s lives, without all of the political in-fighting seen in latter-day times. In fact, on that point, she is resolute: “Mark my words, we will see more Independents standing at the next General Election – and winning – than we’ve ever seen before, because they have come from communities … people want to feel like they have power.”

When I ask her about whether a similar concept to constituency surgeries should exist for the mayoralty, Natalie suggests that all London MPs ought to hold more constituency-level surgeries – she decries the notion of the Mayor “doubling up” on this. What she does say she would seek, however, is more caseworkers who would field and address residents’ concerns on behalf of the mayoralty, adding that this model would serve as a “backup” for Local Authorities and individuals.

She also emphasises the need for “joined-up systems”, with proper communication between the Mayor’s caseworkers, any local MPs and local Council officials. She expresses her frustration at the different communication systems used by Local Authorities, and agrees with my summary that there ought to be a central way of ‘raising a ticket’ with the Mayoral Office for Londoners.

I raise with her the point that certain communities are in fact quite transient; people come and they go again fairly soon – not all communities contain people who have grown up together, or watched the next generation growing up. Natalie’s response is to point out that there are still always “core members” of a community, who are staples of that neighbourhood and are in this for the long run.

The next central issue that we address is housing. Natalie’s manifesto talks about “four tiers of housing”, following her ‘What London Wants’ survey – student homes, rental homes, first homes and family homes – and when I ask her to expand on that, she tells me that she is willing to do anything the incumbent Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has already pledged to do. Highlighting the contribution of construction to carbon emissions, though, she does question the viability of the Net Zero target when more houses need to be built in the city to satisfy demand.

Natalie also believes that renters are being taken advantage of in London – she explains: “I believe in money; I don’t believe in greed.” She describes how she believes certain landlords are “actively profiteering” – as opposed to others who are only trying to make ends meet – and are just exploiting their tenants. She adds: “When you call out businesses that treat people badly, that are charging their customers too much … when you call them out, customers move – and they go to better companies.”

I ask her whether she would have a ‘Naughty List’ of such companies, and her response is unequivocal: “Oh, totally – I would name and shame.” I probe further, asking whether this would mean ‘war’ with badly-behaved landlords’ organisations, and she replies: “I’m only against people that are treating people badly.”

When I ask her whether that means her stance is ‘come at me’, she replies: “I will fight for people to be treated well in London – I will fight for Londoners to have a good home to live in. That is the pledge, and I will take on anyone that’s not doing that.”

We then talk about the present incumbent as Mayor of London – Sadiq Khan – and I ask her whether she thinks he is a ‘professional politician’. “Oh, he’s a professional career politician,” she says, “who’s just trying to get to the next job.” As to his main challenger from the Conservative Party, Susan Hall, Natalie says she has “no idea what she is” – and does not find her a credible candidate for the mayoralty. She adds that she is “confused” as to how someone who supports former US President Donald Trump on social media could be “qualified” to be Mayor of London.

As the interview winds up, we next move on to talk about healthcare. When I relate one unsatisfactory healthcare experience I recently had myself – owing to a lack of communication within the same hospital – Natalie says that the Mayor can only really influence, but not directly control, aspects of healthcare. However, she adds that data and the way it is viewed is key to improving the operations of healthcare services, from a person-centric approach, and emphasises the importance of “pilot projects” to drive innovation.

The last question I ask her is how a ‘young Londoner’ versus an ‘old Londoner’ might experience their life in the city. A journey through life, being born in the city or moving to it early on, facing the challenges that confront everyone living there. I put to her that there are only a few years that a Mayor may serve – so what are the foundations that she would lay?

“When you run a business,” she says, “you make decisions today based upon ensuring the long-term legacy of that business, so it should still be around in 20 years”. She tells me that when we think about a 10-year-old in London right now, we also need to think about what life in London will be like for him when he’s 30. One particular aspect that she highlights is connectivity for technology, so that people will never be left out of the loop while travelling.

She further laments the “disparate series of strategies, which is what we’ve currently got” in respect of a vision for London from the mayoralty. “What’s the journey of a 10-year-old?”, she adds, continuing: “What is the journey of someone who’s 50 right now that’s going to live the rest of their lives in London?”

Natalie wants the GLA (Greater London Assembly) no longer to be operating with strategies in silos, but to be based upon the “outcome goal” for Londoners’ life experiences, and concludes that her goal is to answer the question: “What would be different in their lives as a result of having me as Mayor?”

After a short informal discussion of the different ways of pushing content out to voters, we wrap up. The wide range of topics discussed over the course of the conversation gives an impression of a candidate who has a ready answer to a range of issues – and if she does not yet, will find one.

Patrick Timms
Patrick is a freelance translator and political journalist who makes regular media appearances, with a background in educational IT. In 2019, he stood as a Conservative Councillor candidate in Crewe West.

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